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War Is Kind

War Is Kind


by Stephen Crane

Stanza 4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 17-19

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.

  • Now we begin the glorious fourth stanza. It looks a lot like the second, and uses some of the same language (flag, drill, die). Mr. Tough Guy is here to give us another vivid battlefield picture.
  • The regiment's flag, with an eagle on it, is swiftly blazing in the sky. No, it's not on fire; blazing just means that the flag is shining brightly.
  • And once again, we're told that the men were born to drill and die. Sounds like another refrain to Shmoop.

Lines 20-22

Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

  • The fourth stanza continues with some more unpleasant remarks.
  • He tells the flag to point out the virtue of slaughter to the soldiers and make plain the excellence of killing.
  • Then he says something about a field where a thousand corpses lie. 
  • Wait a second. We've seen this line before. That's right, this guy used it when he was talking about the battle god back in stanza 2.
  • Anyway, we know the phrase looks tacked on, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense at first. You should toss in "make plain" so that the sentence essentially reads "make plain a field…"
  • The excellence of killing? The virtue of slaughter?
  • There's nothing excellent or virtuous about either one of these things. In fact, they're pretty much all around terrible. Most folks agree. 
  • So that raises the question: is the speaker being ironic at all? Or is this how a drill sergeant or military man really thinks?
  • We'd be willing to bet that a military man doesn't really think killing is excellent and slaughter virtuous. But then again, war is about winning, and you win by killing and slaughtering.
  • It's possible, then, that these lines are a critique of military thinking.
  • Still, no matter which way you cut it, they're pretty unsettling.
  • Note that the third and sixth lines of this stanza rhyme (die/lie). Should the speaker really be rhyming around when talking about a subject so gruesome?

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